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Star Tribune editorial: Minnesota voters stand apart, at least in part

EDITORIAL BOARD l Star Tribune l November 5, 2014

Tuesdays election brought gains for Republicans in many states and shifted control of the U.S. Senate and Minnesota House to the GOP. But Minnesotans stood sufficiently apart from the national trend to return DFLer Al Franken to the U.S. Senate for a second term and re-elect DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

Frankens victory over GOP challenger Mike McFadden was a prominent blue spot on a U.S. Senate map that turned Republican red as votes were tallied across the country. In many states, Republicans succeeded in casting the election as a referendum on President Obama. As they assume control of the Senate in January, they may believe that they defeated him.

We hope they soon recognize that they did not. Obama is still president through 2016. Whats more, as of Tuesday, the Republican Partys national reputation and future fate is linked with Obamas as never before. The new Republican-controlled Congress and the Democratic president will either succeed together, or together earn the nations contempt for inaction on pressing national problems. Political self-interest ought to compel at least some collaboration.

Franken overcame McFaddens criticism for voting too often in concert with Obamas wishes. In fact, Franken often made alliances with Republican senators in pursuit of legislative goals. But in a second term, and especially if hes in the minority, Frankens effectiveness will depend on seeking more common ground with Republicans. He won the Star Tribune Editorial Boards endorsement in this election because he has shown that he is up to that job.

Dayton, who bested Republican Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, will need to beef up his bipartisan chops as well with the state House shifting to GOP control. (The state Senate was not on the ballot this year and remains in DFL hands.) State government has not fared well in recent years when power has been split between the two big parties. But partial government shutdowns in 2005 and 2011 also coincided with a weak state economy and tight money. The economy and state governments bottom line are both healthier today. Keeping both strong will be Daytons challenge in the next four years.

American governments already depleted capacity for bipartisanship took another hit in this years campaign. It was characterized by massive efforts to instill doubt, mistrust, fear and loathing in citizens minds in order to sway their votes or perhaps to dissuade them from voting at all. Many Americans were glad to see Election Day arrive as much for the cease-fire in campaign ads it brought as for the opportunity to participate in state and national governance.

Its increasingly clear that the nation has grown frustrated with a political system that smears candidates reputations before they arrive in office and then hamstrings them while they are there. Too many Washington politicians spend as much or more time on fundraising as on policymaking. Increasingly, Americans are seeking ways to lift the nations politics to a higher plane.

Some will look anew at campaign-finance reform and will consider a constitutional amendment to allow governments to limit corporate spending on political speech, overturning the U.S. Supreme Courts 2010 Citizens United decision. Thats a long shot. Weve advocated a more feasible change: requiring disclosure of all sources of independent campaign spending, including the so-called dark money now shielded by nonprofit status.

Were struck by the vast difference in the tone and substance of campaign messages this year compared with the more temperate Minneapolis mayoral contest in 2013. To be sure, an off-year election in a DFL-dominated city is different from the national midterms in many respects but a key one is Minneapolis use of ranked-choice voting.

Mayoral candidates didnt air scowling gray photos of one another, bash one anothers hairstyles or personal wealth, or deal in ugly innuendo about each others personal traits. That wasnt because they were a kinder, gentler political species. It was because they were seeking to be the second choices of voters whose first choices were their opponents. Ranked-choice voting presents candidates with a disincentive to dish out offensive personal attacks.

Our guess is that even voters who backed Tuesdays winners are finding it hard today to feel good about the campaign that produced their preferred result. If thats the case, an opportunity has arrived for promoters of ranked-choice voting and other electoral reforms to swell their ranks.

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